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12-Year Term in Machete Attack

3rd Defendant Given Credit for Cooperation, Remorse

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 5, 2005; Page B04

The third and final gang member involved in the machete attack last spring that severed four fingers from a 16-year-old boy's hand was sentenced yesterday to 12 years in prison.

Jose Cruz-Melendez, 19, of Annandale received three years less than his two co-defendants, all members of the Latino gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13. Attorneys in the case and the judge said that unlike Hayner R. Flores and Cristobal Z. Medrano, he had not been an MS-13 member for long, cooperated with police and showed genuine remorse. He also said he did not wield a machete that night.

_____From The Post_____
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Rival Gang Members Attack Boy, Police Say (The Washington Post, Feb 25, 2005)
Murder Trial Offers a Rare Look at Gang (The Washington Post, Feb 20, 2005)
A Chance for a Clean Start (The Washington Post, Feb 20, 2005)
Murder Trial Offers Rare Look at MS-13 (The Washington Post, Feb 17, 2005)
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In addition to losing four fingers from one hand, the victim, who did not attend the hearing in Fairfax Circuit Court, nearly lost the thumb from the other, but it was reattached. He also suffered deep gashes to his head and back.

"The injuries are horrific," Fairfax Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jay R. Nanavati said yesterday. "The societal cost, in terms of fear for the neighbors, is tremendous. It makes certain neighborhoods essentially subject to the law of the jungle."

The May 10 machete attack on Edsall Road in the Alexandria area of Fairfax and a gang-related slaying days later in Herndon rekindled public outrage over gang violence and generated additional government funding for Northern Virginia's nascent gang problem.

Authorities believe MS-13 is the area's dominant street gang, with more than 2,000 members, and much of the recent gang-related violence has been attributed to it.

Nanavati said the victim and two other members of South Side Locos had chased the three MS-13 members with baseball bats after an earlier exchange of insults. The MS-13 members retreated to an apartment and emerged with machetes. Now the chase was reversed. The 16-year-old was knocked down and trapped by Flores, Medrano and Cruz-Melendez, Nanavati said, who rained machete blows on the teenager as he cowered and covered his head.

All three defendants pleaded guilty to malicious wounding and gang participation. Alene C. Grabauskas, Cruz-Melendez's attorney, said her client deserved some leniency because he had no prior criminal record, had a job and a supportive family and had not swung a machete during the attack. She said he had been an MS-13 member for two months and had been threatened with death in prison if he left the gang.

Cruz-Melendez stood up in court and apologized to the victim and his family. "I regret with all my heart not doing anything to stop what happened. I will carry the guilt with me forever."

Judge David T. Stitt imposed a 20-year term for malicious wounding but suspended 10 years, and he imposed a 10-year term for gang participation but suspended eight years. He also ordered the three defendants to pay $14,632 in restitution to the victim for his hospital bills.

"This is an absolutely brutal crime," Stitt said. "The victim is crippled for life. It's the kind of behavior that's not going to be tolerated in Fairfax County."

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